Those junctures in life that change a person forever
August 23, 2013
As I write this I have a ring side seat to one of those moments in a person’s life when she turns a corner and sees in the distance a new country that beckons her, its Siren songs ringing in her ears, its promise of blessedness almost within her reach.
In my particular case the traveler is my youngest daughter who is set to begin her college career in a new city, far from the place of her birth and upbringing. Her mother and I have done what we can to prepare her for this moment, and we will cheer her from the sidelines each step of the way. But the journey is hers.
However, on a deeper level having observed this turning point in her life, I have found myself considering how important such moments are in the writing life.
I heard somewhere that there are only two stories: 1. a person takes a trip, and 2. a stranger comes to town.
These two fundamental stories underpin everything, and they do so because they mean that no story is worth telling unless it is the tale of events that alter a person’s life forever. The journey is not a sightseeing expedition where the traveler has no stake in the locales he sees out the window of a tour bus. Rather the trip is a matter of life and death. Someone will die in a gunfight on those cruel streets, or find the Holy Grail, or achieve inner illumination.
Herein lies that indecipherable something that separates ordinary books from classics. Perhaps it is not so much the writing itself as it is what is at stake in the story.
If what is a stake is trivial, it can hardly cause a reader to immerse himself in the drama. But if our hero faces challenges that will define him for the rest of his life, we have something to pull for, a reason to share the journey with him.
When I look at the body of work I have produced thus far in my writing career, I find that sometimes there has not been enough at stake in the stories. This is a subtle trap writers face because after a while they learn enough about the craft of stringing words together that they can write about almost anything and do a fairly decent job of it.
The danger is that the craft can become divorced from the guts of the story.
It doesn’t matter how fluent the writing is if the character’s journey is only a trip to the mail box to grab the latest installment from Net Flix.